What in the name of Ichabod Crane has happened to Halloween? Last year, only three houses on my block displayed the universal beacons of free candy on Oct. 31: a jack-o’-lantern and a lit front-porch light. Do kids in Seattle even go trick-or-treating? 

Back in my day, that was the sole purpose of this holiday: You dressed up in costumes and tramped around in the dark, begging for candy from neighbors and strangers until it was time to stumble home bone-tired. 

Nowadays, you’re more likely to see packs of drunk, scantily clad adults stumbling by your home on Halloween night than any little ghosts or goblins. I’m afraid Halloween has transformed from a kids’ holiday to an adults’ holiday, especially around here.

 

Revealing costumes

When did women’s cleavage become such a popular Halloween decoration? 

A few years ago, I went to a costume party for adults. I was surprised at what some party-goers were wearing: One woman was dressed in a Hooters waitress uniform, and other women were dressed as a “sexy” nurse, a “sexy” witch or a “sexy” prostitute. One creative woman had glued silk leaves and flowers to a bikini and called herself “Jungle Girl.” 

You can see examples of some of these adult costumes in advertisements for costume shops, adult stores and gentleman’s clubs currently running in some of the other weekly newspapers around town. (You may want to keep these ads away from your children, by the way.)

Adult costumes like these are making Halloween very profitable. About $7 billion is expected to be spent on Halloween this year, up from $3.3 billion spent in 2005. Adult costumes now account for more than 50 percent of all costumes sold, totaling about $1.2 billion, compared to $1 billion for children’s costumes. 

An ad for a costume shop that recently opened in the Georgetown neighborhood even mentions that it doesn’t even sell kids’ costumes at its new location; you need to drive over to its Bellevue location to shop for those. 

Another company called Halloween City will hire 12,000 temporary employees this year to staff 400 temporary retail stores across the country, selling costumes for “kids, adults, couples and groups,” according to its website. 

Sales of pet costumes are growing incredibly, too, with about $310 million in sales last year. 

You also probably noticed the first bags of Halloween candy on local store shelves around the second week of August. There’s a reason for this Halloween creep: Candy sales were about $2 billion last year. 

It’s no wonder Halloween is becoming an adults’ holiday: Only adults can afford it!

 

Real scares

Maybe kids aren’t trick-or-treating around my neighborhood because they’re going to a mall or a school, which just doesn’t feel right to me — like waking up on Christmas morning in Tahiti. 

I think this trend started about 30 years ago, when seven people near Chicago were murdered by poisoned Tylenol capsules at the end of September 1982. Cities and towns all across America cancelled trick-or-treating that year or moved parties to controlled environments like malls and schools on Halloween night. 

Obviously, Halloween has always had an edge to it — hence, the “trick” part of the candy incantation and the traditional sinister imagery of witches, skeletons, ghosts and Care Bear costumes. 

Halloween never felt the same for me after 1982, but was that because it seemed more dangerous or because I was growing up? 

The larger question, of course, is why are more and more American adults celebrating Halloween? Is our society just growing increasingly immature by the generation? Is it just a way to forget our troubles for a night during these difficult times and let loose and have fun? 

 

Ancient traditions

Halloween evolved from ancient pagan harvest festivals and feasts honoring the dead. Perhaps we’re still tapping into this primeval human need to celebrate this time of year. 

A couple of years ago, I was talking to an old friend about my Halloween observations. “Could you imagine our parents still putting on costumes and going out to drink all night when we were kids?” I asked, incredulously. 

A few months after that conversation, I was visiting some longtime friends of my parents when they brought out some old photo albums from the 1960s. There were some pictures of a Halloween party from 1968, and sure enough, there were some photos of my parents, who must have left my two older brothers and sister at home with a sitter. 

My mother was wearing a U.S. Army uniform (no doubt, borrowed from my Uncle Bob), and my father was wearing a giant diaper, bonnet and nothing else. Flowers and the words “Hippie Baby” were painted on his beer belly. 

Apparently, the more things change, the more adults like to shed their clothes and bare their skin on Halloween night. 

MATTHEW WILEMSKI, an award-winning columnist, lives in Wallingford. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.